The Healing Place provides men addicted to drugs and alcohol a free, long-term residential recovery program. Offering a “hand up, not a hand out,” they use a 12 step, peer-led model. The program is in high demand, as the opioid epidemic continues in Greater Richmond. Virginia Currents producer Catherine Komp has more in our ongoing series, Facing Addiction.
Learn More: CARITAS’s Sobering Up Center is open 24-7, 365 days a year at 700 Dinwiddie Avenue, Richmond, VA 23224. Call 804-230-1184 for more information. CARITAS also hosts a Family Education Program every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at 563 Southlake Blvd and a Fatherhood Group on Wednesday afternoons.
Men at the Healing Place come from all walks of life, says Program Director Al Jackson.
Al Jackson: We’ve had air plane pilots, we’ve had doctors, we’ve had dentists, the common laborer.
The average age used to be 45-55, but the greatest increase is younger men, says Jackson, many are addicted to opioids.
Jackson: Usually when clients get to us, we have a saying that the Healing Place is the last house on the block. We serve usually those men who are no longer employable, society has given up on them.
Ron Schneider: Because we are non-medical, we do monitor vital signs, we do monitor mental health looking for early warning signs that they’re having problems with their withdrawals so if it’s necessary we can send them out for further medical attention. Otherwise what we do is provide support, we provide hope and we give them some opportunity to be able to change their life and that’s what we really promote, a life changing alternative.
Operated by the non-profit CARITAS, the Healing Place is free for men in the Richmond metro area who are homeless. Their definition of homelessness is broad, it just means your name can’t be on a lease or mortgage. The model began more than 25 years ago in Louisville, Kentucky; that’s where Jackson went through the program in 1995 before eventually coming to Richmond to help set up the Healing Place here.
Karen Stanley: The men run this facility, as you can see they’re walking around doing around laundry, they do the security in the front, they do the maintenance, they do all the meals.
Karen Stanley is CEO of Caritas. She says their 12-step program is self-paced and peer-run. For some it takes six months, others a year or longer. All clients begin with what’s called “off the streets ” They get three meals a day, basic healthcare and a bed in a large dorm room and need to work their way to the next level of the program.
Stanley: They literally start in bottom bunk in the back wall there and their goal to get to this bunk here, and they move sometimes daily, and their movement is based on their motivation and their motivation is measured by the number of AA and NA meetings they attend and the number of classes they attend.
In the beginning, the program restricts the use of motor vehicles and even bicycles. When clients go to off-site meetings, they walk. They call it trudging or “walking with a purpose.”
Stanley: They’re getting all the substances out of body because obviously exercise is good for that but they’re also building community and getting to know each other so they’re starting to build that network amongst themselves. We do a lot of walking and that’s part of the model.
Sean Fournia: I was like, man we got to walk to all these meetings? This is crazy, why can’t we drive? I fought it.
Sean Fournia has been through the recovery program twice. When he first heard they’d be walking miles a day, he thought it was ridiculous.
Fournia: And then I started to understand, it’s to create the bonds with my brothers. But I couldn’t see that in the beginning, it took time, I had to go through it to have a better understanding of it. To relate with one another, to pour our sweat in the hot summer days and walk across the town, there’s something in that, the bonds you create doing that.
Many in the program were addicted to heroin and prescription opioids. Sean Fournia tried opioid replacement drugs, like suboxone and methadone. But he says they weren’t effective.
Fournia: The only thing that seems to really work for me is being around this building.
Like others before him, Fournia has been through the five parts of the program and is now a paid mentor for the Healing Place.
Fournia: We guide them through their step work, we hold them accountable, we role model for them and we counsel them and that’s what this program is built upon: role modeling, peer counseling and peer accountability.
Between 65 and 70% of clients who complete the recovery program are still sober one year later, according to staff. Even with a successful recovery model, Healing Place alumni faced another challenge - getting a job, says Development Officer Clara Stokes.
Clara Stokes: Our clients were getting out there, had a year of sobriety under their belt, decided to go get a job which they have to have to sustain themselves and doors were being slammed in their face. They didn’t know how to talk about gaps in in employment so they would self sabotage and end up back in the Sobering up Center.
After searching the country for effective models, the Healing Place started “Works” specifically designed for people facing barriers to employment. They offer skills assessment, resume building, computer classes and mock interviews. There’s sessions on budgeting and building credit. And, they work on establishing a strong character through communication and conflict resolution.
Works participants: Here we go… This is going to be fun...
Each morning, there’s a team-building exercise. Today, it’s Mine Field. A bunch of objects, balls, cups and toys are scattered on the floor. A blindfolded man gets directions - step right, move forward - to avoid touching the objects.
Works participants: To your right, the other right… You can do it!
Stanley: It’s a great way to start your day, but it’s not just to be silly, it’s to make people feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations, which is what you’re doing when you’re interviewing.
A “dress for success” module ends with participants getting tailored suits and dress shirts
Stanley: They get interview appropriate suit and several pair of pants and shirts. We work with Ledbury, the local men’s high-end shirt company and they teach the Dress for Success class and then every man gets two Ledbury shirts, which is an amazing thing they’ve really been doing under the radar for the last four years. We have volunteers who run all the components of our program, so we have a volunteer tailor and two women that come in and measure all the men and pull out what they think they’ll like.
The Healing Place works with dozens of area companies, from construction and landscaping to sales and financial institutions. Staff say about 90% of their clients are hired within 30 days of finishing the Works program.
Stanley: They’re there early, they’re clean and sober, they got a great attitude, they’re so grateful someone’s giving them another chance that when there’s another position available in the company, the boss will come to them and say, “You got any buddies?” So we find we have multiple layers of staff now in management positions in these companies. We had one gentleman who started to work for a assisted living facility as a maintenance assistant and over last four years has worked his way up to HR director and has hired 15 of our men over the course of that time, so it’s pretty cool to watch.
Fournia: I think the Caritas Works program was really instrumental into giving me a renewed sense of confidence that I haven't had in myself in a long time.
Sean Fournia was previously a network engineer. After finishing the Works program, he’s hopeful he’ll return to the field soon.
Fournia: It just gave me confidence, like a new set of legs to stand on, a renewed sense of self-appreciation, confidence. It was the building up process that drugs and alcohol have torn down. It’s torn me down, and [the program] is the building up and now they prepare you for the work environment. It was very uplifting.
The Healing Place has reached capacity throughout the year. While they try to always make room, they’ve had to turn away about 18 men from the sobering up center since July. And they refered eight women to programs out of state. One of their next goals, to create a Healing Place for women in the Greater Richmond community. For Virginia Currents, I’m Catherine Komp, WCVE News.
Thanks to CARITAS for providing photos for this story. Photo of Al Jackson and Ron Schneider by Catherine Komp.